Future Brings CPU Modules, And The Future Is Now

Modularity is a fun topic for us. There’s something satisfying about seeing a complex system split into parts and these parts made replaceable. We often want some parts of our devices swapped, after all – for repair or upgrade purposes, and often, it’s just fun to scour eBay for laptop parts, equipping your Thinkpad with the combination of parts that fits you best. Having always been fascinated by modularity, I believe that hackers deserve to know what’s been happening on the CPU module front over the past decade.

A Youtube thumbnail showing a Thinpad in the background with "Not Garbage" written over its keyboard, and one more keyboard overlaid onto the picture with "garbage" written on that one.
This “swap your Thinkpad keyboard” video thumbnail captures a modularity-enabled sentiment many can relate to.

We’ve gotten used to swapping components in desktop PCs, given their unparalleled modularity, and it’s big news when someone tries to split a yet-monolithic concept like a phone or a laptop into modules. Sometimes, the CPU itself is put into a module. From the grandiose idea of Project Ara, to Intel’s Compute Card, to Framework laptop’s standardized motherboards, companies have been trying to capitalize on what CPU module standardization can bring them.

There’s some hobbyist-driven and hobbyist-friendly modular standards, too – the kind you can already use to wrangle a powerful layout-demanding CPU and RAM combo and place it on your simple self-designed board. I’d like to tell you about a few notable modular CPU concepts – their ideas, complexities, constraints and stories. As you work on that one ambitious project of yours – you know, the one, – it’s likely you will benefit a lot from such a standard. Or, perhaps, you’ll find it necessary to design the next standard for others to use – after all, we all know there’s never too few standards! Continue reading “Future Brings CPU Modules, And The Future Is Now”

render of the MNT Pocket Reform on a desk

MNT Reform Goodness, Now Even Smaller With Pocket Reform

You might have already seen the pretty pictures in pastel colors online — a small netbook-like computer with a full-size keyboard. This, while a render, is what the MNT Pocket Reform is going to look like. Reminiscent of the netbook aesthetic in all the right ways, it’s a small device with a mechanical keyboard taking as much space as possible, trackball for navigation, and we assume, exactly the kind of screen that’d be comfortable to use.

We’ve reviewed the MNT Reform a year ago, and this device inherits a lot of its good parts. The motherboard’s connectivity is likely subject to change, but on the motherboard renders, we can spot three USB-C ports, a Micro HDMI port, a microSD card slot, ix Industrial Ethernet, and M.2 B-key and M-key slots for WWAN and SSD cards respectively.

If you expected computational specs, there isn’t really a specific CPU+RAM configuration announced – for a good reason. The Pocket Reform takes advantage of the CPU card concept designed into the MNT Reform – able to take a card with an NXP i.MX8M CPU, Raspberry Pi CM4, Pine SOQuartz, a Kintex-7 FPGA, or any of the cards yet to be developed. The design files are open-source, the prototype motherboards have been ordered, mechanical usability aspects have been worked through. This is a very compelling project, and we can’t wait to see it bear fruit!

Hackaday Podcast 051: Pointing With Your Tongue, C64 Touchpad, USB Killcord, And Audacity Does Everything

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams sort through the hacks you might have missed over the past seven days. In FPGA hacking news, there’s a ton of work being done on a newly discovered FPGA dev board. Kristina has a new column on input devices, kicking it off with tongue-actuated controllers. We wax philosophical about what data you need to backup and what you should let go. Plus Audacity is helping tune up CNC machines, copper tape is the prototyper’s friend, and fans of Open should take note of this laptop project.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (60 MB or so.)

Continue reading “Hackaday Podcast 051: Pointing With Your Tongue, C64 Touchpad, USB Killcord, And Audacity Does Everything”

Open Laptop Soon To Be Open For Business

How better to work on Open Source projects than to use a Libre computing device? But that’s a hard goal to accomplish. If you’re using a desktop computer, Libre software is easily achievable, though keeping your entire software stack free of closed source binary blobs might require a little extra work. But if you want a laptop, your options are few indeed. Lucky for us, there may be another device in the mix soon, because [Lukas Hartmann] has just about finalized the MNT Reform.

Since we started eagerly watching the Reform a couple years ago the hardware world has kept turning, and the Reform has improved accordingly. The i.MX6 series CPU is looking a little peaky now that it’s approaching end of life, and the device has switched to a considerably more capable – but no less free – i.MX8M paired with 4 GB of DDR4 on a SODIMM-shaped System-On-Module. This particular SOM is notable because the manufacturer freely provides the module schematics, making it easy to upgrade or replace in the future. The screen has been bumped up to a 12.5″ 1080p panel and steps have been taken to make sure it can be driven without blobs in the graphics pipeline.

If you’re worried that the chassis of the laptop may have been left to wither while the goodies inside got all the attention, there’s no reason for concern. Both have seen substantial improvement. The keyboard now uses the Kailh Choc ultra low profile mechanical switches for great feel in a small package, while the body itself is milled out of aluminum in five pieces. It’s printable as well, if you want to go that route. All in all, the Reform represents a heroic amount of work and we’re extremely impressed with how far the design has come.

Of course if any of the above piqued your interest full electrical, mechanical and software sources (spread across a few repos) are available for your perusal; follow the links in the blog post for pointers to follow. We’re thrilled to see how production ready the Reform is looking and can’t wait to hear user reports as they make their way into to the wild!

Via [Brad Linder] at Liliputing.